CEDAR RAPIDS — Ramping up for what he predicts will be a tough campaign, President Barack Obama returned to where his White House quest began.
“How’s it going, Iowa?” the president greeted more than 1,000 supporters at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday. “It’s good to be back.”
“Hope you’re still fired up and still ready to go,” the first-term Democrat had said moments earlier to an estimated 500 people who couldn’t get inside Johnson Hall for the campaign rally. “I’m betting that you are going to be as fired up as you were in 2008.”
The supporters were, interrupting his 40-minute remarks with cheers and chants of “four more years.”
Although Iowa has just six electoral votes, it appears that winning the state again this year will be vital to Obama’s re-election efforts. In addition to a pair of trips to Cedar Rapids, Obama’s made two other visits to Iowa this so far year. First Lady Michele Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have been in the state five times since January.
“This is going to be a close election,” Obama warned.
“No, it’s not,” someone shouted back.
In his last political campaign — “No matter what” — Obama hopes to draw on the support he found in Iowa in the 2008 race.
“I have so much confidence whenever I come to Iowa,” he said, because four years ago “even when the national press was writing us off … everywhere we went we were reminded of the strength and the decency and the values of America, because nobody represents those values better than the people of Iowa.”
In his day trip to Iowa, Obama focused on the economy and tax fairness. He spent 20 minutes visiting Jason and Ali McLaughlin in their northeast Cedar Rapids home.
According to the White House, they’ve realized about $4,900 in tax relief as a result of legislation Obama signed. However, if Congress does not extend the Bush tax cuts for people making less than $250,000 a year, as the president proposed earlier this week, the McLaughlins stand to see a $2,000 increase in their tax bill.
“That wouldn’t just be a big financial hit for Jason and Ali,” who have one son, Cooper, and another on the way, Obama said, “it would be a big blow to our entire economy at a time when we need all the help we can get.”
Congressional Republicans prefer to extend the tax cuts for everyone, which Obama said would provide $5 trillion in relief for the wealthiest Americans.
“And that fight is a big part of what this election is about,” Obama said. “But in the meantime, doesn’t it make sense for us to agree to keep taxes low for 98 percent of Americans who are working hard and can’t afford a tax hike right now? Why don’t you compromise to help the middle class? Go ahead and do the 98 percent, and we can keep arguing about the 2 percent. Let’s agree when we can agree.”
There may not be as much room for compromise as Obama would like. Republicans were quick to say he “has nothing to offer but the same failed policies that haven’t worked over the last four years.”
“American jobs have vanished, consumer confidence has plunged and now President Obama is proposing massive tax increases as his solution,” said Shawn McCoy, a spokesman for presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney. “Americans deserve better — and with Mitt Romney as president, we will get our country on the right track.”
Obama found more agreement at Deb’s Ice Cream & Deli in downtown Cedar Rapids, where the president ordered mint-chocolate chip ice cream in a waffle cone for himself and several other treats for members of his staff and security detail. He briefly chatted with customers as well as a small crowd outside the restaurant before heading to the airport and back to Washington.
Iowa and the nation have been through a lot since Obama took office, he said, but the reasons he ran then and is running again are the same.
“We still know that what makes us great is the fact that if you work hard in this country, you can still make it — that vision we still believe in,” he said. “The vision of a strong middle class is what we’re fighting for.”
Just as when he made Cedar Rapids and Waterloo his first stops after officially entering the 2008 presidential race, Obama said the bottom line is that he needs Iowa’s help.
“The thing you guys taught me four years ago is that when you have grass roots folks who are energized, who are enthusiastic, nobody can stop you,” he said.
“So I hope you guys are ready to hit the streets, knock on doors, make phone calls and talk to your friends and talk to your neighbors, because if we win, we’re going to finish what we started in 2008 and remind everybody just why it is America is the greatest country on earth.”